ISSN 2330-717X

Burma: Census Risks Marginalising Rohingya


By Hanna Hindstrom

Burma’s landmark census planned for 2014 is likely to exclude and further isolate its Rohingya minority group, which has been denied citizenship by the government since 1982.

Although the government has agreed to include all “national races” in the census, the 1.5 million Muslim minority group does not fall under this category and campaigners worry they will be left out.

“It is very likely that the Rohingya will be excluded from the census in 2014,” Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK told DVB. “Despite signs of political reforms in the past six months, Thein Sein’s government has reaffirmed specific deeply discriminatory policies against [them].”

Considered illegal Bengali immigrants by the government, the Rohingya cannot travel without special permits and are routinely denied the right to education, healthcare and family life. They face jail terms unless they obtain permission to marry and are bound by a rigid two-child policy.

The President’s advisor U Ko Ko Hlaing recently defended the government’s policy to restrict the movements of the Rohingya to certain townships – mainly in northern Arakan state – for “security” reasons.

The director general of the department of population, Myint Kyaing, who is leading the census project in collaboration with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), has himself previously denied there are any Rohingya in Burma.

“We have no stateless people in Myanmar [Burma] and there are no Rohingya in Myanmar [Burma] as well, because no Bengali people are residing [here],” he said.

UNFPA Representative Mohamed Abdel-Ahad told DVB that the Rohingya had not yet been specifically discussed, but insisted that “the census will be inclusive.”

Up to 400,000 Rohingya have sought refuge from religious and racial persecution in neighbouring Bangladesh, where they often face further discrimination. The Bangladeshi government has only recognised 28,000 refugees, leaving the rest in the shadows of statelessness and social exclusion.

A 2010 report by Physicians for Human Rights concluded that “Bangladeshi authorities have waged an unprecedented campaign of arbitrary arrest, illegal expulsion, and forced internment against Burmese refugees.”

The Rohingya were stripped of their Burmese citizenship in 1962 by former military chief Ne Win on the basis of being “non-nationals”. But Rohingya groups insist they have lived in Burma for generations, citing evidence of political participation dating as far back as 1936.

Reports of racism against Rohingya are widespread in Burmese society. Last year, a BBC report that identified Arakan state as populated by the group caused an outrage across Burma, culminating in threats to boycott the media outlet.

Even democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) has refused to speak out on behalf of the Rohingya. When pressed on the issue in a recent BBC World interview, a senior official for the NLD replied:

“I don’t want to answer because even in our organisation the Rohingya question has not been settled. Even in our leadership some of them think that the Rohingya is a very delicate question.”

Both the US and EU have called for greater rights for the Rohingya, but it is unclear what level or priority they will be afforded in Burma’s reform process. Campaigners say the NLD’s voice is crucial.

“Instead of staying silent, [Suu Kyi] should speak up,” said Tun Khin. “I believe she is currently paying more attention to mainstream politics.”

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Democratic Voice of Burma

The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) is a non-profit Burmese media organization committed to responsible journalism.

3 thoughts on “Burma: Census Risks Marginalising Rohingya

  • May 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    God knows we have many problems in my country, but when I see such blatant attempt to re-write recent history, it aggravates me. Rohingya issue has nothing to do with the present government (or previous ones for that matter).
    Many of us remembered as young adults growing up, Rohingya were people from Bangladesh, who just moved into Arakan State in the 70s (Bangladesh used to have horrendous floods every year, but just appropriating a neighboring country’s land isn’t the decent solution, is it?).
    I remembered my country tried to resolve this invasion with Bangladesh, but that country wasn’t interested. Even worse , Qaddafi showed up with his Mega petrol dollars, threatened us with mega consequences if we continued to push his fellow Muslims back into waterlogged Bangladesh (although they belong there!).
    So Myanmar was obliged to let them remain in Arakan state as “temporary weather refuges”! Arakan state land isn’t for anyone to give away (we have bona fide Arakan people who has been living there for centuries!), hence a different treatment of Rohingyas from indigent people!
    Then we fall upon harder time ourselves, and then this Rohingya started crossing the Andaman sea (in the 80s & 90s) and declared themselves as fleeing from religious persecution in Myanmar! (I knew what happened in Malaysia because my Malaysian friends asked me why are we persecuting their fellow Muslims? My answer was, we weren’t. We are all too busy trying to survive our own hardship!)
    Fast forward to the 2000s and 2010s.
    Malaysian prisons have hundreds of these “so called Myanmar refugees” for lawlessness. (Yes we do have bona fide Myanmar refugees there as well). By then, my Malaysian friends have wised up. They said these “Myanmar refugees” look nothing like people from Myanmar. They are actually Bangladeshis!
    So I have to ask BRO and DVB to have some integrity and not try to rewrite recent history so blatantly!
    What about the Rohingya (refuges?) in Malaysia? I don’t hear them clamoring to be issued Myanmar passports. None of them want to go back to occupying Arakan land. If anything, they would rather be in Malaysian census! Not surprisingly they feel no emotional ties to their “Arakan” homeland. (Only Arakans will feel that I presume).
    Don’t you think the lady has too many things to do without being besiege with bogus issues as well?

  • May 10, 2012 at 11:36 am

    I feel sorry for “happygolfer” who ever is it. I am wondering how old is he or she? I am wondering how much he knows about Arakan History. He is telling about Rohingya came from Bangladesh after 1970s. I will not argue too much with him which I think it is worthless.

    I just want to tell him that from 1965 to 1968 Rohingya were broadcasting news through Burmese Radio channel called “Myanmar A Than”. If you you want original copy of time table of Rohingya broadcasting with other ethnic you can contact us. we will give you a copy for free which were taken original copy from the department.

    What else you can say. Is it Rohingya came from BGD to YGN broadcast news with their won language? OR You can say we I am lying.

    Be sincere person “Mr.happygolfer” the world knows who is right and who is wrong!!!!

  • May 22, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    Simple answer.
    Do they look like Myanmar people?. No.
    Do they have similar culture to Myanmar? No.
    Do they speak Myanmar language?. No.
    Were they in Myanmar before British invasion? No.

    Rohingya is just invented word. This word never exist in history.

    So called Rohingya people = people form Bangladesh. Period.


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